WATCH: President Obama on Lily Tomlin and Ernestine Drag Queens
Over the weekend Lily Tomlin was celebrated as a Kennedy Center Honors recipient with a gala tribute performance featuring Kate McKinnon, Jane Lynch, Jane Fonda, and more, but President Obama has divulged what she felt would be really appropriate.
Tomlin told him, “What I’d like to see is a big stream of gay drag artists come out as Ernestine,” Obama said as he introduced this year’s honorees at a White House reception.
Obama praised Tomlin for her versatility and her portrayals of many classic characters, including telephone operator Ernestine, smart and bratty little Edith Ann, and the 16 characters in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, “written by her brilliant partner, Jane Wagner,” as the president observed.
He also noted a 1973 variety show in which a skit featured Tomlin and Richard Pryor as “two black folks hangin’ out in a diner,” which one reviewer called “the most profound meditation on race and class that I have ever seen on a major network.” That “says something both about Lily and the major networks,” Obama said.
Of her hit 1980 movie Nine to Five, he said the changes in corporate culture made by the main characters are “basically a live-action version of the working family policies I’ve been promoting for years.” Obama added, “We’ve sent DVDs to all the members of Congress to try to get them on the program.”
Tomlin is the first out lesbian to receive the Kennedy Center Honors, which recognize living artists for outstanding contributions to the performing arts. The tribute gala, in which McKinnon called Tomlin “my comedy hero,” will air on CBS December 30 at 9 p.m. Eastern/Pacific, and you can watch President Obama’s remarks about Tomlin and the other honorees below. The portion on Tomlin begins at about the 7:25 mark.